While visiting New York a few years ago, Dan Winters popped into a bodega and ordered a plain with a schmear. The clerk just stared at him, and Winters, who spent four years in the city starting in the late 1980s, realized the guy had no idea what he was saying. Times had changed, even for breakfast. “No one said, ‘Let me get a bagel with cream cheese,’” Winters says. “It was ‘plain with a schmear.’”

Winters celebrates that era in The Grey Ghost, a look at the New York the photographer experienced in his late twenties. “It was the twilight of the New York City that would become the New York City of lore,” Winters says. “The New York of Taxi Driver, Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico—not to use too many Al Pacino references.”

WIRED’s chief photographer splits his time between Austin, Los Angeles and Savannah, and has over the years flown about 3.2 million miles photographing everyone from Leonardo DiCaprio to President Obama. Three years ago, while working on his memoir Road to Seeing, Winters, who is 54, rediscovered the images he made decades ago in New York. The city so profoundly shaped him that he decided to compile the photos in a book.


Winters grew up in Moorpark, California, and got his first professional gig at the Thousand Oaks News Chronicle, a small paper with a circulation of about 35,000. Winters was 25 when photographer Greg Heisler offered him some friendly advice: Quit your job and move to New York.

Three weeks later Winters was an assistant to photographer Chris Callis. He learned all he could from Callis about photography and spent every spare moment on the street with his medium format cameras. “I would literally run out of that building when there was still light out and shoot every day, every minute I could,” he says.

The Grey Ghost is a trove of beautiful, candid moments, like the image of a woman bundled against the cold atop the Empire State Building, illuminated by late afternoon light and looking into the distance at the Twin Towers rising beyond.  Those towers are gone, of course, replaced by the gleaming One World Trade Center. It’s just one of the many things that have changed since Winters explored the city with his camera and sharp eye. But New York remains no less magical, even if not everyone understands what a plain with schmear is.

The Grey Ghost was published by Rocky Nook in 2016.

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